Change in George Gissing’s New Grub Street

Proceeding from the research of the good Franco Moretti, who has applied quantitative analysis to the potboilers of the 19th century, we present a bold new initiative in the analysis of literature that solves some of the problems pointed out in the above review: start with a simpler picture.

We see here a model that is fit for not one but two change processes in George Gissing’s New Grub Street. The adaptable writer Jasper Milvain secures an editorial spot at an up-and-coming periodical while Edwin Reardon, somewhat less keen on the contemporary literary trends, gets lost in The Neutral Zone when he attempts to write a “commercial” novel without believing in it. While Milvain boldly leads the way, Reardon below him struggles to shift into higher gear and see his own change through. Who knows? If Milvain had provided more leadership to Reardon, Reardon might have pushed through to a New Beginning and might not have met his fate by catching a deadly cold in rotten housing that he moved to out of necessity.

Reardon is tied up in yet another change, when his wife Amy refuses to live with him after he takes a low-paying menial job out of desperation. As the “manager” of the family, Amy chooses the path for the sake of their child and for her own dignity, but Reardon cannot immediately see the win. Reardon pleads with her; she responds forcefully but respectfully. He insists on sending her part of his slight wages; she tries to explain that his thinking is part of the old way. He cannot even enter The Neutral Zone. Unfortunately, he dies before he can see through the change that Amy led, and Amy must proceed on her own.

Reardon may seem like someone ill-suited to change, and he is, but his inefficacy is a reminder that it is the process of change that models the success and failure of characters in novels.

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